Articles/Essays – Volume 03, No. 2

On the Mormon Trail | Alma P. Burton, Mormon Trail from Vermon to Utah, and R. Don Oscarson and Stanley B. Kimball, The Travelers’ Guide to Historic Mormon America

Dr. Alma P. Burton, currently Assistant Administrator of Seminaries and Institutes for the L.D.S. Department of Education, first published his guide in 1952 to satisfy a long-felt want of many people who desired to trace geographically the history of the rise, progress, and migrations of the Mormon movement. He commenced with the birth of Joseph Smith in Vermont in 1805 and ended with the arrival of the Pioneers in Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Burton presented a synopsis of Latter-day Saint history, associating it with specific sites. The booklet, six by nine inches, was stapled on the nine-inch side so that it would lie open for quick scanning while traveling. With a full-page sketch of the Mormon Trail superimposed on an outline map of the United States, six specially drawn sectional maps and sixty-six illustrations, the book let proved a helpful guide. Proof of its usefulness is attested by seven printings in fourteen years. 

The author, after presenting a short historical treatise concerning each location to be visited, gave general instructions for traveling from one site to the next, followed by detailed directions to houses, farms, monuments, or sites, after reaching the outskirts of a city, a town square, or some easily identifiable landmark. 

The 1966 revision of Burton’s guide has been enhanced by increasing the number and size of the illustrations and printing many of them in sepia tone. Two sections have been added on Haun’s Mill in Missouri and on the Register Cliffs and deep-worn wagon ruts in Wyoming. Corrections have been made to keep the highway identifications current. Otherwise, the guide remains very similar to the earlier printings. 

This handy guide is open to criticism primarily for its failure to keep Mormon history up to date. When first written, the author drew his information from the traditional published accounts. He has made no attempt in the revision to include any of the results of the great amount of research on Mormon history in the last fifteen years. This has resulted in the perpetuation of some errors. Examples of these inaccuracies are the number of Mormons in Missouri at the time of the 1838-1839 expulsion, the population of Nauvoo, and the present state of ownership of the Temple Block at Nauvoo. A do-it-yourself map of Nauvoo has been eliminated, but no mention made of Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated, as the organization which has taken over the guide service at Nauvoo. The guide also fails to suggest the use of time-saving freeways and tollroads as one moves from the East to the West. 

In 1965, R. Don Oscarson, a member of the St. Louis Stake High Council, and Dr. Stanley B. Kimball, professor of history at Southern Illinois University and also a member of the St. Louis Stake High Council, produced The Travelers’ Guide to Historic Mormon Country. It is printed in black and brown, which makes its maps much more vivid than those in the Burton guide. It is a presentation of the Mormon Trail in an entirely different format from that of the guide book reviewed above, with a much broader coverage of sites and incidents. The first edition of the Oscarson-Kimball booklet, six by nine inches, had a plastic ring binder on the six-inch edge of the publication, which enabled the booklet to lie flat — a great advantage to a driver who desires to follow the many directional maps. Its authors declare it to be the most complete guide available, and their contention is verified by the inclusion of directions to the Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball homes at Mendon, New York, and by several sections entitled “Non-Church Related” historic sites. These enable the traveler to visit sites and homes of prominent Americans as one journeys between historic Mormon areas. 

There are thirty-five strip maps, many patterned after those used by the AAA when plotting tours for its clients, some full-page, others quite small. The highway numerals are in bold-face type, making them discernible at a glance. Another feature is the inclusion of several full-page strip maps, entitled “Other Rapid Routes,” which provide alternate routes to assist those with limited time to see the major sites and bypass lesser ones. The book is profusely illustrated, and the pictures and maps are, as a rule, printed more distinctly than those in the Burton guide. The historical notes are effectively condensed. 

The popularity of this guide, which has been on sale at nearly all the Latter-day Saint historic sites in the East, led to a revised edition the year following its initial appearance. A few minor errors were corrected, but a guide map of Nauvoo, which was borrowed from an old Chamber of Commerce tourist guide and which perpetuates incorrect house and site designations, has been retained. While the authors have made a conscious effort to break away from legendary Mormon history and have used results of recent historical research, some of the time-worn legends and hearsay still crop up. It appears that the publishers were concerned more with saving the expense which a needed revision would have entailed than seeking historical accuracy. 

This guide is effective in leading one from site to site, but in some cases is not detailed enough to assist a person in finding the site in a city after arriving there. In one respect the revised edition is less acceptable than the first printing as the ring binding was replaced with a glued back (this same criticism is applicable to the revised Burton guide), which prevents the book from lying flat on a table or car seat. 

I have used both guides on two east- and two west-bound crossings of the United States. Each has its merits and demerits. What the Mormon traveling public needs is a guide book combining the merits of each, with a revision of the historical data in light of recent findings.

Mormon Trail from Vermont to Utah. By Alma P. Burton. Seventh printing, revised and enlarged. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1966. 103 pp., $1.95. 

The Travelers’ Guide to Historic Mormon America. By R. Don Oscarson and Stanley B. Kim ball. Second printing, revised. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966. 83 pp., $1.95.